The Role of Questions in Persuasion and Influence, Part 1

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, require creative imagination and marks real advance in science”
Albert Einstein

One of the most effective ways to turn around a dwindling situation is to ask the right questions. Questions work both ways – they can help both the influencer and the subject achieve a state of clarity and decisiveness.

Indecisiveness, skepticism and doubt are probably the biggest enemies of any master influencer because these mental states directly prevent the subject from agreeing with whatever is being asked of him.

Before you begin asking your subject different questions to guide him to a mindset or conclusion that will be favorable to your personal goals, let us take a step back to explore the different questions that you can ask yourself when you  feel that a particular interaction is no longer in your favor.

The following questions can be used in almost every situation so feel free to use some or all of them if it would help you strategize more efficiently during an actual interaction.

What do I want to achieve at the end of this dialog/interaction?

What kind of emotions do I want to feel during this interaction?

What is the most favorable emotional response that my subject can give me right now?

What do I really want to get from talking to this person? (Be really truthful when answering this question – there is nothing wrong with wanting to fully benefit from a social interaction!)

How much time should I be investing to get what I want from this interaction?

What is the bigger goal that I want to achieve by talking to this person? Will his participation really help me achieve that bigger goal or not?

Will the subject also benefit from agreeing with what I want him to do or say? Or will all the benefits of this interaction belong to me only? What can I do to make sure that he will also benefit from what I am asking him to do?

How familiar am I with the specific details involved in what I am asking the subject to do? Also, how familiar am I with all of the consequences that may take place after the subject agrees with what I want him to do?

Do I have to involve other people to achieve my immediate goal and my long term goal? Will the person I am talking to right now be the bridge that will connect me to these other key players?

Do I know everything that is relevant to what I am trying to achieve right now? If not, what do I have to do to get that special bit of insight that will help me influence my subject?

What are all the negative things that could take place if I am able to influence this person to follow my lead?

How prepared am I to deal with the various objections that my subject can throw at me? Will I be able to answer these objections?

Among these objections, which ones will have the most weight when the subject is ready to make a decision? Which objections will be given just because the subject needs more information from me?

If I want to achieve something with the help of this person, will I really be better off with his help or not? Will I get better results if I do it myself or will the opposite be true? Will my subject be worth my time and effort at all?

Note that the questions that we have just examined can be used before a dialog and during a dialog (except the ones that obviously require some form of research).

You can glean a lot of insight by looking inward just before talking to a subject. Of course, you can perform a little ‘review’ of what you have known all along by asking these questions during a conversation. Among all of the techniques that I have come across in the world of influence, the strategic use of questions is by far the most effective in transforming a bad situation into a good one.

It is never too late to turn an interaction into your favor, remember that. By asking questions, you gain two obvious benefits. First, your mind is forced to focus closely on what is happening right then and there.

Sometimes, our minds can wander when we least expect it especially if an interaction is not producing the results that we had hoped for. When you are forced to focus, your mind is also forced to come up with solutions that you have not used before.

The second great benefit is you can start predicting what will happen during the conversation. I’m not saying that you will become psychic but by using this strategy you are fairly close to what others will perceive as clairvoyance.

There is nothing weird about this benefit – you will be able to predict what would happen because you can put yourself in the subject’s shoes if you have to. You can avoid potential problems which really speed up the persuasion process.

Questions also increase you overall involvement in all the aspects of the dialog, from details to how the subject is reacting. Sadly, not all influencers are acquainted with the fine art of analyzing subject feedback.

If you are one such influencer, it is imperative that you situate the subject as the central figure in the entire interaction because you are the one who needs something from the other person.

If you don’t pay attention to how the subject responds, you might end up making a lot of mistakes and this will only make the interaction more difficult to handle because the subject will begin to create more objections until such time that he will feel that you should not be trusted at all because you aren’t providing him with the right answers that will assuage his fears, anxieties and doubts.